Prayers said for Cardinal Hume

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CONGREGATIONS FROM all denominations joined in prayer yesterday for Cardinal Basil Hume, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, who has revealed he is seriously ill with cancer.

The 76-year-old cardinal was due to attend Mass at St Teresa's of the Child Jesus, in Headstone, Middlesex, but stayed at home resting instead. However, he wishes to carry on working for as long as possible, and intends to hold a scheduled memorial Mass at 5.30pm today at Westminster Cathedral in London for Bishop Patrick Casey, who died in January.

Hundreds of people yesterday went to Westminster Cathedral, where Cardinal Hume has been archbishop for the past 23 years. They prayed during Mass that "the Lord would strengthen and sustain him".

Maite Cork, 25, of south London, who regularly attends the cathedral, said after the service that people had not suspected Cardinal Hume was ill. "It was a real shock to hear that he has cancer, especially because he looked so well during Holy Week," she said.

Cardinal Hume broke the news of his advanced illness in letters to the priests in his archdiocese. He had, however, received "two wonderful graces", he wrote. "First, I have been given time to prepare for a new future. Secondly, I find myself - uncharacteristically - calm and at peace."

A member of his Westminster congregation said yesterday: "The cardinal is such a great man and is an example to us all. I think this is a pointer to everyone about how to face up to this terrible disease. Our thoughts are with him."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said on hearing the news: "I am so sorry to learn of Cardinal Hume's illness. His ability to look forward with hope is typical of the man we know love and respect."